What Had Happened Was
What had happened was, there was a resolution on the floor on the very last day of the biannual General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (In our denomination, we take “sense of the assembly” resolutions that say what the people in attendance think about important things. They’re not rules or doctrine; they’re a somewhat reliable pulse-check on the denominational diehards who still show up for biannual assemblies.)
Resolution 1526, “Resolution to Celebrate and Reaffirm Our Commitment Towards the Vision of Planting 1,000 New Congregations by 2020,” followed up on a promise we made some years ago. It was basically a reminder to us all that starting new churches is beautiful and essential work. It would be easy to say, “Yes, yes,” to that.
The procedure is thus: whoever wrote the resolution introduces it, and then people get a chance to talk to the whole assembly about it, using some funky parliamentarian protocols that you don’t want me to explain here. Suffice it to say, I found myself walking toward the appropriate microphone to get permission to address the assembly. I had no plan, no notes; I’m not a great extemporaneous orator. But I knew I had to speak. “The moderator recognizes the speaker at Microphone Number One,” said the moderator.
“Thank you, Mr. Moderator,” I said, my gigantic face turning blotchy red on the humongous screens at the front of the plenary hall, my voice reverberating through the arctic air-conditioned air. I shivered. “I am Katie Hays, pastor-planter of Galileo Christian Church in Mansfield, Texas. I rise to express gratitude for the congregations of the Trinity Brazos Area of the Southwest Region of the Christian Church, which granted us extremely generous start-up funds for our first two years of life. And Galileo Church has made good use of those funds; we are welcoming people to the heart of God in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit.” (A couple of people “Amenned” at that.)
“However, I need to tell the whole truth about that. Two years is not enough. Galileo Church has legs, but it can’t walk on its own yet. Our start-up funds have run out. And the truth we should acknowledge is that new church starts very often fail for lack of money. Not for lack of interest from the community; not for lack of the minister’s good work; not for lack of the gospel’s power to transform lives. It takes money, real money, to make this ministry possible. And while Galileo is progressing toward sustainability, we have not achieved it yet.
“I will vote ‘yes’ on Resolution 1526, but I just want to say that it’s not enough. We already have the prayers and encouragement of our sister churches. I already have the friendship and commiseration of my colleagues. What we don’t have, what we really need, is more money to extend our life to the time when we can fund our life together.
“I’m hoping that established, traditional, aging congregations that are holding tightly with clenched fists to the resources that are slowing their inevitable decline will find the courage to open their hands and release some of those resources in service of the church’s future. I’m hoping that we’ll find a way to share with new congregations all across the country that are struggling to stay alive because their pastors are working full-time jobs and planting churches in their spare time.
“I will vote yes on this resolution. But it’s not enough. Thank you.”
And I stumbled back to my seat, panting a little from anxiety. I closed my eyes to concentrate on breathing deeply while the talking continued.
When I open my eyes, she’s kneeling beside me. I’ve never seen this person before, and I didn’t hear her come up, but there she is, kneeling on the concrete floor beside my chair. She says, “I don’t have very much money. But I want to share with Galileo. This is such good work. Can I write a check?”
And while I’m gaping, unable to say anything, she starts to scribble, her checkbook on her bent knees. No, not a huge amount of money, but who cares? The real gift is her presence. The real gift is the power she’s sharing with me in that moment. She rips out the check and hands it to me with a smile. “Take heart,” she says. “It will come.” And we both stand up into an automatic embrace.
By this time I was crying the ugly cry – blotchier face, lots of snot. A friend from Georgia crept up to offer me Kleenex. I let go of the check-writing angel to wipe my face and she was gone. I didn’t see her again for the rest of the assembly. It’s hard for me to believe she even exists outside of that moment.
Over the next two days, I received notifications from Paypal that donations had arrived from a couple more of my colleagues, and that recurrent donations from one had been set up. Another friend wrote to ask what kind of plan we have for our long-term sustainability, and to offer her considerable administrative talents to help realize it.
But that’s not all. When I landed at DFW after a long travel day I got a call from a pastor saying that her church had voted to include Galileo in their outreach budget; she would be mailing a check that was on her desk before she got home from the assembly. And just this morning a journalist who heard somehow about Galileo sent email to say that she’d like to give us some free publicity in a metroplex magazine.
These offerings – especially the ones that are clearly unrelated to my words at General Assembly 2015 – are the gifts of God for the people of God. Or more specifically, for this person of God. I don’t usually say that God is directing specific actions for the sake of God’s people, making it rain, whatever. But sometimes there’s really nothing to say except, “Thank you.” To the people God uses, and to God’s own Self – thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks be to God.